Online education gets a bad rap. Despite the rise of MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) and trustworthy online degrees pioneered by some of the most successful universities, studying online has yet to convince society.
Yet, back in 2014, an MIT study reported some surprising findings on a comparison between the success of online-taught and classroom-based physics students. Students that studied online reportedly learnt a greater amount than their traditionally-taught counterparts.
Undeniably, where online learning is concerned, there are challenges, and while technology does not hold an answer to everything, access to any form of education should be welcomed and embraced. Online learning has been criticised for supposedly benefiting only those who already have an education, and for not having enough depth or breadth to actually teach anything worth knowing. The media has even branded online courses set up by prestigious universities as inferior to the top-ranking institutions they sprung from.
Yet despite this bad press, hundreds of people opt for online study, including some of the world’s biggest celebrities and leaders. Here are a few examples of highly successful people that chose distance education at different stages in their life; some before, some after an already thriving career and various other educational achievements. They are a testament to the benefits and success of distance learning courses and the virtual learning environment as a whole.
A prominent political figure, an adored actor, and a successful businessman and investor; it does not get better than “The Terminator”. The Californian governor was reportedly average in his academic achievements in school. But that did not stop him from excelling and pursuing education later in life.
At the age of 31, Schwarzenegger decided that his lack of a degree was the missing piece of the puzzle when it came to a completely successful career. With the gubernatorial candidacy on the way, he was aiming for credibility. As a result, he enrolled on a bachelor’s in international business and economics, which he completed mostly through correspondence classes. This was the original way to complete distance learning programmes and is the predecessor to online education today.
The famous basketball player gained a business degree from Louisiana State University, but he continued his education with an MBA online from the University of Phoenix. He stated: “It’s just something to have on my resume for when I go back into reality. Someday I might have to put down a basketball and have a regular 9-to-5 like everybody else.”
He then continued with a doctoral study on “The Duality of Humour and Aggression in Leadership Styles” at Barry University. With a motto like “no excuses”, it is not surprising that he has achieved so much.
Following her role in hit teen series ‘Lizzie McGuire’, the actress decided to enrol at the Harvard Extension School on their extension program, which is basically the shorter, online version of campus-based study at the prestigious university. Although she got a lot of flack for being just an “extension” graduate, it is no small feat considering she chose to continue her education *after* well-established Hollywood success and a lucrative music career.
Nelson Mandela earned his bachelor’s degree through distance learning, from the University of South Africa. At the time, the young Mandela submitted assignments and received feedback through correspondence.
He then continued his education with a law degree at the University of Witswatersrand. Despite going to prison, he continued his studies even from behind bars. As if that was not inspirational enough, he also offered legal advice to prisoners and prison staff.
Marcia Cross, who you might recognise from ‘Desperate Housewives’, graduated from the prestigious Juilliard School with a half-scholarship in performing arts.
In 1993, she lost her husband, actor Richard Jordan, to a brain tumour. Four years after her husband’s death, an interest in “people, their journeys and souls” led to her return to education with a master’s in psychology from Antioch University.
Not an actor, but equally important to the world of online learning, was the story of a young boy from Mongolia, Battushig Myanganbayar. After taking a MOOC on circuits and electronics course for sophomores at MIT, Battushig continued studying at the prestigious university to become a child prodigy in a class of youngsters ranging from 13 to 17-year-olds.
He then proceeded to create his own interpretation of lecture videos to help other students. Following his acceptance to MIT, he started working as a research assistant to help develop the MOOCs at MIT. He benefited hugely from online education and took a great interest in the community and the collaborative aspects of home learning in order to improve the access and usability of online study.
While this is not an exhaustive list, it helps to prove that educated people, some with powerful careers underway, still choose to invest in their education and development. And, despite the critics, they have chosen distance learning in some form or another above traditional education routes. Online learning can’t be that bad after all.